Ascension

Ascension

2 Timothy 1:3-7, Mark 6:7-13

We are coming to the end of the season of Easter. Tomorrow we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension to heaven, and the following week, Pentecost, where we hear about the holy Spirit coming upon the disciples.

Easter seems a long time ago doesn’t it? Eggs and autumn flowers, chocolate and a holiday. But Easter is a permanent condition in the hearts of those who follow Jesus. He rose from the dead, once and for all, conquering death so it would not conquer us. Every Sunday is a little Easter day, and Jesus’ resurrection is a constant with us. But our church has seasons, – that’s one major difference between the Anglican church and the Pentecostal churches, and it’s part of what drew me back to Anglicanism. In the Pentecostal church, every Sunday was Easter, but it wasn’t showcased, or particularly celebrated, at Easter, and the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross through Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Holy week was often completely ignored.

But the Pentecostal church go big on Pentecost (obviously ) – the gift of the Holy Spirit is their main focus.This week’s readings offer hints, tasters, of the Holy Spirit, which we will hear about more in the weeks ahead. Paul is commending Timothy and encouraging him, reminding him “ to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands”. Paul is talking about the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the present power of God to be in us and animate us, no matter how unworthy or pathetic or useless we may feel in our own strength. Paul goes on the tell Timothy that “ God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and 0f self-discipline.”

This spirit God gave us and God will give us, fills in the gaps we perceive. Gaps of strength and bravery, and of lack. If God gives us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline, what we could achieve for his kingdom on earth!

In the Gospel reading Jesus sends the disciples out with nothing – they only have the clothes they are wearing, but he sends them out with everything – that is, His Spirit, so that they may have power, love and self-discipline, they may be Jesus’ hands, feet and voice in the communities where they go. Not every community will welcome them – it’s the same for us. W can take the Good news wherever we go, but some may scoff and mock and tell us to shut up, or go away, or worse. But that doesn’t mean we should stop living the Gospel wherever we are. If we remind ourselves that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, or fear, as some translations have it, then we can go boldly where no one has gone before, no wait, that’s Star Trek isn’t it. Some translations have ‘power, love and sound mind’, rather than this one of self-discipline. Sound mind – that is a bit different from self-discipline isn’t it? I think it talks about mental health. Is God promising us good mental health by the power of the Holy Spirit? I need to see what the Greek word means. Σωφρονισμου ( suphronismou) is the word in Greek. It is translated as self-discipline, prudence. The verb suphroneow is to be of a sound mind, healthy and sensible. It has implications both of mental health and of good steady habits. Maybe there’s a hint here that good habits can help our mental health, and I have certainly found for myself that coping with anxiety takes good habits along with medication and prayer.

Our Gospel reading tells us about the results of the disciples going out armed with the Holy Spirit and nothing else. They cast out demons and cured the sick. It was God’s spirit working in them that enabled this, because they believed that the power was real. We too can expect healing if we ask for it in Jesus’ name. There is no limitation to this power – it doesn’t run down like an old battery left in a drawer.

This Holy Spirit power is something we need to find for ourselves. God has no grandchildren, the saying goes. Many of us were raised in the church, but there may have come a time when the whole real sense of Jesus being alive today came alive for us, not just something we heard about, but a personal experience of an infilling of the Holy Spirit. It can come upon us gradually, or all in a rush, such as during an Alpha course. But having believing people in our families sets the scene for this closer relationship to happen. Paul remembered Timothy’s Mum Eunice, and his Grandma Lois as people of strong faith, and I really like that Paul mentioned them by name. Some later generations of the church hierarchy tended to forget about the faith of the middle-aged and elderly ladies sitting in the pews, especially when it came to leadership, but for Paul these two were important enough to be in a letter that was not only sent to Timothy, but would have been immortalised in the canon of the bible, because it was widely circulated.

Next week the season of the church year will no longer be Easter, but Pentecost. As you prepare, try to hold the two ideas of Jesus’ resurrection and his Holy Spirit side by side, and see where that takes your prayers.

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